Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
So many stars croon the same old carols to the ringing of cash registers, but there are no “Little Drummer Boy” or “Rudolph” jingles on James Brown’s Christmas albums, at once intensely personal and highly politicized. Funky Christmas features tracks from three Brown holiday classics from 1966-1970, a high point in the Godfather of Soul’s career. Instead of harping on the usual Hallmark platitudes, Brown targets Christmas as payback time for an oppressed people; instead of tearful wishes, he’s got some demands to make. In “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” he gives the fat man directions to his old neighborhood with explicit orders to redistribute the wealth. In “Santa Claus, Santa Claus,” he ticks off a grocery list of bum luck hitting his family, before finally pleading, “Santa, don’t let me suffer.” As usual, the music provides essential lessons of funk, particularly in the glorious swoop of the horns in “Christmas Is Love.” Despite a couple of religious numbers (the lovely “Little Baby Boy, Parts 1 & 2” and “Christmas in Heaven”), Brown keeps the focus on the earthly realm. The title song from 1970’s Hey America berates the hippie nation for giving lip service to racial harmony: “Hey America, it’s Christmas time. All year long you’ve been giving me the peace sign. Don’t you think it’s about time, after a half-million peace signs, for me to start coming your way and you to start comin’ mine?” He’s still waiting for an answer, and it ain’t in Santa’s bag.—Eddie Dean